Shades of Handsome Sam by Ian Campbell


Beginnings: Serving Your Apprenticeship Late 1950's

Shades of Handsome Sam

The first thing you learn as a first year apprentice is the universal rule of rejection by tradesmen. They don't want to be bothered by some edjit following them around all day asking stupid questions. But if you were lucky, like me and found a good tradesman with a sense of humour and who didn't mind you tagging along, you treated him like gold dust and didn't rock the boat, although sometimes what was asked of you was above and beyond the call of duty.

I was sixteen and standing in the mud of my first building site with the foreman, who was trying to pair me up with a joiner, without much luck, when in through the gates came a figure dressed in a black leather jacket with thongs at the sleeves, knee length American laced boots, tied with a boxer's knot that bobbed when he walked, and a pure white shirt. The foreman tried again. "Will you take this lad with you for the week?"

"Sure," came the reply. "Follow me, kid." I followed while the going was good. We climbed to the top of the new Royal Victoria maternity wing and to the lift shaft where he was working. He asked me my name, I told him and asked him his.

"You just call me Handsome Sam."     Had I heard him right?     I had… "I don’t think I can call you that."     "If you want to work with me that's my name."   I was between a rock and a hard place. If I could be sure everyone called him that, fine, but if I was the only one, I would be the laughing stock of the entire site. I was still considering this when some men far below on the road stopped, looked up and pointed. Then one of them cupped his hands to his mouth and shouted. The sound filled the empty lift shaft and roared out onto the roof; "What about ye Handsome Sam?"

Sam walked over to the edge of the building and, looking down, gave them a regal wave. They, in turn, genuflected.

He turned to me, his back to the sun, arms outstretched, palms up. The sun danced in the highlights of his blonde hair, the Clark Gable moustache lifted over the even white teeth and the sun came through the thongs of his jacket in rays. I then heard a voice deep within me say; 'This is indeed Handsome Sam, in whom we are well pleased'. From that day on I called him nothing else.

Somewhere along the way I found out Sam was a good amateur boxer. When he boxed in the Ulster Hall a sports writer described him as; 'this handsome young man'. Next morning in the Yard 'Handsome Sam' was born. He always spoke of the men who gave him the name with great affection. I still remember too, with affection, my first journeyman, Handsome Sam Crosgrove.

Ian Campbell